It was 62 years ago that Hurricane Hazel made landfall in North Carolina, and remains to be the only Category 4 storm to do so. The anniversary of Hazel falls just one week after hurricane Matthew made landfall in South Carolina. The two storms have been compared many times since Matthew developed in the Caribbean as many feared a repeat. The storms no doubt share many similarities, but just a few differences made the difference in the impacts experienced.
The tracks start out eerily similar, both developing and moving west through the Caribbean in early October before making a sharp turn north towards Haiti. The tracks diverge after moving past Haiti and into the Bahamas. Hazel took a more direct path towards the Mid-Atlantic Coast, taking in the opportunity to strengthen on its way there. Matthew however, moved on a path towards Florida, but ran parallel along the coast before finally making landfall north of Charleston, SC. This difference in Matthew’s path was a costly one for Florida, but scraping up the East Coast weakened Matthew as it approached North Carolina.
The direct impact from a Category 4 storm in 1954 was devastating to the North Carolina Coast. The official report from Raleigh, North Carolina states that, “all traces of civilization on the immediate waterfront between the state line and Cape Fear were practically annihilated.” Hurricane Force winds pushed as far inland as Raleigh.
Where North Carolina was spared Category 4 force winds from Matthew, the rain Matthew dumped across the state topped that seen from Hazel; the highest rainfall total recorded from Matthew was almost 19 inches in Elizabethtown, NC. The Carolinas were already set up for floods before Matthew hit, due multiple soakings in the recent weeks. Now all the water has poured into the rivers, which is pushing floodwaters downstream towards the coast.